I don’t claim to understand how the film industry works. My two books on horror and religion deal with interpreting the movies, not their native cinematic environment. I say this because I limited my treatments in them to films with a theatrical release. Mainly this was so that readers would have had easy access to them. Some films, of course, never go to theaters and it seems that happened, in the United States, to the Israeli movie The Golem. I saw a trailer for it last year and patiently waited for it to arrive. I recently found it on an online streaming service and finally had a chance to watch it. Golems, as original Jewish monsters, have shown up in a variety of popular media including The X-Files and Sleepy Hollow. Film treatments have been rare, and this one makes for a fascinating monster movie.
What makes the golem so compelling is that it is an explicitly religious monster. To create a golem (according to the film) the maker must use Kabbalah, Jewish mystical texts, to learn how to bring it to life. Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), the female protagonist, is the only one in her seventeenth-century village willing to try. The real hook, for me, is that the golem she creates is a little boy. The role must’ve been fun to play. Golems cannot speak, so there are no lines to learn. Kirill Cernyakov nails the part with an ability to portray emotionless menace. The problem with a golem, you see, is that it goes on rampages, killing even those it’s conjured to protect. Since the movie is intended to be a retelling of the classic story (involving the golem of Prague), it doesn’t have too many surprises. It is, however, a thoughtful movie.
Write-ups on it call it “the Jewish Frankenstein,” but scholars who research Frankenstein often go the other way, seeing Frankenstein’s monster as a form of golem. The basic idea is taking something inert and bringing it to life. Afterward the creator is unable to control it. It’s too bad that The Golem didn’t get a wide theatrical release. I’ve seen far worse horror films that did. Perhaps the focus on religion was too blatant? One of the points I make in Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible is that religion and horror belong together. Some Jewish viewers will undoubtedly spot inaccuracies (even this goy did) but the movie isn’t a religious text. It is an appropriate rebuff to Trumpian “politics” and even features a plague. It is a movie for our time.
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